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Gear test: The Sage DART

This time of year, it’s all about small water for me. With summer in full gear, lower-elevation waters are simply too hot to fish, and the tailwater refuges for big trout are crowded with drift boats.

But up high, where night-time temperatures dip into the 40s or even the upper 30s, trout waters stay nice and cool most of the day. Granted, save for migratory cutthroats that hang out to enjoy the hopper “hatch” through August, most of the fish in these glistening mountain streams are kind of the like the water in which they swim—a little small, but absolutely stunning.

Enter the Sage DART, the company’s new small-water “creek freak” rod.

Sage has always pushed the envelope when it comes to going smaller and lighter. Most rod manufacturers will dip into 2-weight territory, or introduce a new light-weight glass rod that will immediately get you thinking of your favorite mountain stream. But, for some reason, Sage is the only outfit that will continually and brazenly go even smaller. The DART comes in a 0-weight through a 4-weight.

This week, I’ve had the pleasure—and it really has been a pleasure—to fish the 1-weight version. As I told a friend after a day on the water with the DART, my admiration for this little stick is “borderline inappropriate.”

The DART uses the Sage KonneticHD materials, and while the 1-weight comes in at less than 2 ounces, it has that solid Sage backbone that we’ve all come to expect over the years. Yes, it’s light. Yes, it gives smaller fish some added heft. And, yes, it does so well in close quarters that you’ll think your cast is suddenly worthy of competition. After all, the kind of fishing I’ve done over the last few days is exactly what the DART was made for—low, clear alpine streams burgeoning with native Snake River fine-spotted cutthroats that hide under willows, behind root wads and snags a behind rocks. Getting flies to these fish is always a challenge, but the DART is in its element.

But, as they say, “Wait, there’s more.”

I was pleasantly surprised with the DART’s ability to really throw some line when necessary. Loaded with RIO’s Gold trout line on the new Sage Click reel, the rod threw tight loops and a size 10 foam hopper accurately to 40 feet a regular clip. I was sure I was pushing its limit when I spotted a big cutty feeding tight to a bank about 50 feet away, but I made the cast and, more importantly, I nabbed the big fish.

Hence my admiration for this little rod.

The DART, for all its downsized hardware, sports an admirabe fast action. At the same time, it’s more than capable of delicate presentations. DART models come in three pieces and are 7-feet, 6-inches long (save for one 3-weight model for tight quarters that comes in at 6-feet, 6 inches long), so they’re ideal for short casts and putting flies tight to structure. But, as I said, the backbone really surprised me. At one point I even added a small dropper nymph below the big hopper I was fishing. The 1-weight DART didn’t miss a beat.

This rod isn’t cheap, coming in at $700 on the nose. But if you spend as much time as I do on small water and want something dependable and capable, it’s worth every penny.

— Chris Hunt